HC Deb 15 October 1940 vol 365 cc651-3
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I beg to move— That the Timber (Charges) (No. 2) Order, 1940, made by the Treasury under section two of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 17th September, be approved. The effect of this Order is that the timber charge is not to be payable in certain cases. Under the original Order, it was laid down that a national levy should be imposed upon all timber sold, partly with the intention that timber merchants should not take an undue proportion of profit. A small charge was made to that end. That Order was made some weeks ago. The purpose of the present Order is to remit that national levy in three cases. The first is in the case of certain imported timber, and the ground for remitting the additional charge is that the timber is being imported at the same price as other timber and therefore there is no purpose in imposing the additional charge because there is not an extra profit. The second object is to give the Minister power to limit the charge in regard to certain second-hand or recovered timber. Owing to the shortage of timber, recovered timber, obtained from the destruction of premises or in other ways, and second-hand timber, are being used. The Order permits us to remit the special levy which was provided under Order No. 1 in regard to second-hand timber. Thirdly, the Minister can remit the levy on timber which may be damaged by insects or in some other way, and which cannot be sold as new timber. The timber, nevertheless, has to be used, and we want to get it into the market. We want to limit what would be an unreasonably high charge on timber of so small value. The effect of the Order will be to make more practicable the original Order, the principle of which was agreed to by the House of Commons some time ago.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I see that this Order includes these words: by the addition to the proviso of the following proviso. In the proviso referred to there is mention of pit handles. In Yorkshire we do not call them handles but pit shafts. They are used by the thousand. In fact, a real collier cannot work without a pit shaft. In some of the places where I have worked we have been using anything up to a dozen pit shafts a day. I have seen four or five shafts broken in a day. These shafts continually wear out. I would like to know whether this Order means that these implements are now to be increased in price. If so, can the Minister tell us to what figure the increased price will go? This information is not given anywhere in the Order.

Mr. Macmillan

In order to save time, perhaps I should point out that, if this Order were not made, the additional national charge would be levied on this class of goods. By making this Order we do not raise the additional charge on this category of goods.

Mr. Griffiths

I am very pleased with that answer. Does the Order affect pit timber or only pit shafts?

Mr. Macmillan

Pit timber was specifically excluded from the No. 1 Order.

Mr. Griffiths

I am glad to have had those two assurances that pit timber and pit shafts will not have a levy placed upon them. I was rather afraid about it. Pit timber is now costing 6d. a ton, and if there is any levy the cost will come out of the colliers' wages. Eighty-five per cent. of it comes from the miners and we, as representing the miners, are desirous of seeing that nothing more goes out of their wages. Having had those assurances, I will not press the matter to a Division this afternoon.

Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)

I would like to know whether salvaged timber is included in the term "damage to secondhand timber." It seems to have been the policy of the Timber Board to concentrate great stocks of timber at the ports. I should like to know whether that fact means that considerable quantities of timber will be exempted from tax. At what point is the charge to be made? If this timber had been distributed throughout the country perhaps we should not have so much damaged timber to exempt from this charge. Does salvaged timber become exempt from the operation of this charge?

Mr. Macmillan

I would point out that this is not a tax. The purpose of this charge is to prevent profiteering by a particular class of merchants who happen to have held stocks prior to the time when the necessary rise in price came into operation owing to the rise in the value of imported timber. If the price is spread it is to the advantage of all users, and it will prevent an undue profit which would go merely by chance to a particular class of timber owner. It will even things up and it is in no sense a tax.

Mr. Morgan

But the consumer pays?

Mr. Macmillan

The consumer pays, but it has the effect of raising the price less than otherwise would be the case, because it is taking into account the present price of imported timber and the price of original stocks. This is an intervening period in which we are trying to even things up so that the advantage does not go entirely to the merchants. With regard to the question of salvaged timber, it will come into this category of exceptions and we shall not raise the levy on salvaged timber either from ports or any other place where it may be destroyed, injured or damaged. The wider question of the policy of distribution is a different one. Unfortunately, timber has to be imported through the ports; it is the only way in which it can be brought in. It is very difficult not to have certain stocks of timber at the ports, but every possible effort is being made, having regard to other demands upon transport, to distribute these stocks all over the country. That is, and will be, the policy of the Control.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Timber (Charges) (No.2) Order, 1940, made by the Treasury under Section two of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 17th September, be approved.

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